Despite being on holiday in Acapulco with his sister Alice (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her two teenage children, Colin (Samuel Bottomley) and Alexa (Albertine Kotting McMillan), he looks utterly miserable as he looks down at the water below him in the opening. sequence of the film.
When Alice receives news of their mother’s death, Neil conveniently loses his passport and the rest of his family return to London to deal with their grief. In their absence, the once cheerful Neil stands up and begins to enjoy life a little more, although he is also sad.
Despite Alice’s promise to take the next flight home, she checks into another hotel and befriends a local woman.
Perhaps fed up with domestic and business life in London, it is perhaps not surprising that he decided to stay in sunny Acapulco. Who wouldn’t want to trade the stress of life for the comfortable confines of a beach resort? For a while now, it’s safe to assume he’s going through some sort of midlife crisis, so he’s decided to postpone his journey home (perhaps forever).
But that’s just speculation, as the film’s director and writer Michel Franco doesn’t give us much in the way of backstory. For long stretches of the film, we just watch Neil go about his days as he lays on the beach, drinks beer, and stares off into the distance. It’s hard to know what’s going on in his head, and so it’s easy to be disinterested in him, just as he isn’t interested in grieving family members.
And then another tragedy strikes, and suddenly we have to look at Neil from a new perspective. I’m not going to go into plot details here because that would spoil one of the film’s few surprises. But as a viewer, I was surprised by this dramatic event in the middle of what was previously a slow and uneventful movie.
Tim Roth is excellent as Neil, a middle-aged man who has probably lost his mojo. He never gives us a clue as to what Neil is thinking or going through, but he manages to impress with his performance. Charlotte Gainsbourg impresses as an increasingly frustrated woman who returns to Acapulco after worrying about her brother, only to find him sitting silently on a chaise longue, oblivious to her uneasy feelings.
Franco’s film is superbly shot and he captures every element of the heavenly setting. Sometimes you can be fooled into thinking you’re following a travelogue of people from all walks of life and backgrounds enjoying life on Acapulco’s sandy beaches.
But then violence ensues, blood mixes with the rising tide of the sea, and we, like the Nile, are reminded that death is an ever-present reality for us all. No matter how hard we try to avoid it, death is always there, fueling our thought processes, even as we travel to distant places to block out this painful reminder. It’s an ugly truth, and it’s probably the crux of Neil’s crisis.
Despite his wealth, his life seems meaningless, and as he looks hopelessly out to sea, he may be facing the emptiness of his own existence. This is my understanding of the film anyway, but your interpretation of the film may differ from mine.
Not For Everyone
Sundown is not a film for anyone looking for a lot of exposition and a neat resolution. Franco invites us into the life of a depressed and desperate man, but doesn’t give us many clues about him. It is up to us to understand the workings of his mind, and we are left to guess the meaning of the film’s ending.
If you’re someone who likes to theorize about movies and discuss your interpretations with others, you’ll get more than those who want a coherent and easy-to-understand story. I fall into the former category, but even though I appreciated the opportunity to discuss it with a friend afterward, I felt a little shifty about the bare-bones nature of the story itself.